More iPhone

Someone just brought an iPhone into the office, and I got to play around with it for a bit. I recently said something about why you shouldn’t buy one. I’d like to revisit some of my points from that piece.

The virtual keyboard

For me, the virtual keyboard is virtually useless. I have normal sized hands, for someone my size, and using my thumbs to type is out of the question, as the risk of hitting one of the adjacent keys instead of what you wanted to press is, for me, around 50%. Which leaves me with two-handed operation as the only real alternative.

The touch screen

I mentioned the grid overlay, and yes, it does steal light, and the screen is less bright than non-touchscreen displays. Note that it is more than reasonably bright for indoor use. As for how bad the loss of brightness is, compared to other touch screens, I’d say it’s neither among the best or worst of the bunch.

One of the things I had read about, but hadn’t expected to be nearly as bad as it was, was the stains. The device I tried looked like it had had a kid with sticky fingers as the primary user for a couple of weeks. Make sure that you always have something to wipe the screen with available.

The automatically rotating display was really nice, though. The biggest problem with this feature is that it’s only supported in a few applications, like the iPod/iTunes stuff, the photo album and in Safari.

The screen

No, the screen, or the resolution isn’t bad, compared to other offerings. With the prior reservation about brightness and staining, it’s more than comfortable enough for viewing YouTube videos, or read maps on Google Maps. On the other hand, the screen is absolutely not amazing. The screen on my Nokia 6300(!) is both brighter, and sharper. And I still want that 640×480 display from the OpenMoko.

The browser

The browser is Safari, and works reasonably well, but its JavaScript performance is less than stellar – especially considering it seems to have a reasonably fast CPU under the hood.

The browser seems to be based on an older version of WebKit. The first indicator being the aforementioned JavaScript performance. The second being that it fails rendering Acid2 correctly. More precisely, it fails on two rows

  • Row 1: fixed positioning, minimum and maximum heights, and minimum and maximum widths.
  • Rows 4-5: paint order and fixed backgrounds. More specifically,the background behind the eyes is orange, which, IIRC, indicates problems with handling <object> correctly.

So, what’s using the browser like? In landscape mode, most text is readable when zoomed in, even on this site. In portrait mode, whether the text is at all readable is more a matter of luck, as the browser does not seem to do any sort of dynamic text-wrapping or other adjustments to ensure that you get both a minimum font-size when you’re zoomed in without having to scroll both horizontally and vertically. In this respect, the current beta of Opera Mini 4 works much better, as you rarely, if ever, have to choose between horizontal scrolling and readable text.

Scrolling quickly in Safari also seems to reveal a bit about how the iPhone renders graphics:

  • When you zoom in, you first get a blurred, low-detail zoomed in version of the page, that changes to a more detailed view. This is much the same you see with interlaced PNG images on the web: First the low-detail version, then the proper one.
  • When you scroll quickly around, the iPhone will only render the new part of the page after some time, indicating that the iPhone is always just rendering to a texture barely bigger than the screen. The upside to this is that scrolling feels reasonably snappy, but at the same time, the downside is that it that it, at the same time, feels slow, because you’ll end up staring at a grey screen for 0.1-0.3 seconds before actually being able to read.

Stuff I missed

When I last wrote about this, I missed the following — The iPhone has absolutely no clipboard. You can’t select text. This is unforgivable. For instance, you can forget about using the phone to input data into the social web

7 Comments

  1. pwb

     /  2007-07-02

    This is a very lame review. When you make a comment like “the virtual keyboard is virtually useless” it’s clear that you have no credibility. The keyboard may not be as good as a “real” keyboard, but it is hardly useless. You make a further error in assuming that your medium/large fingers would touch a nearby key. In fact, because the keyboard is virtual, it can be programmed to *only* activate the key that has the most surface area in contact with your skin. In fact, it can even compensate for the fact that it know your thumbs might be coming from the sides of the device.
    When you zoom on Safari, it’s a much better user experience to zoom the low rez version while the higher rez renders.
    And you are wrong again about browser rendering. Safari renders the whole page top-to-bottom no matter where you are. It just renders it progressively and shows checkboard for the area that hasn’t rendered yet. Again, a better user experience.
    You should check your biases at the front door before critiquing something you know little about.

  2. scipio

     /  2007-07-02

    A colleague of mine just bought the HTC Touch and even though I have no idea how it compares to the iPhone, I can confirm what pwb says: it is actually amazing that a touch screen can figure out which virtual key I pressed with my fingers, even on the small virtual QWERTY keyboard. Did the iPhone really only get half of what you pressed correct?

  3. pwb: Who said this was a review? I am just revisiting a couple of the potential issues that I posted in my article about why you might want to avoid it. I still consider said issues to be real, and ignoring them isn’t helping anyone.
    The keyboard: I watched two other people have the exact same issue with the keyboard as I had, more or less continuously hitting adjacent keys to the one they wanted to press, and sorry: No. It doesn’t beat the twelve-key keyboards you find on a regular phone. They provide tactile feedback, are operatable using a thumb, and with one hand only.
    As for the zooming: You misread what I said entirely. When I said it’s evident that Safari (or anything on the iPhone, really) renders to a texture, I meant that, and only that. You see it when you zoom in, because the text is temporarily blurry, while the texture is being re-rendered and replaced once ready. It’s also evident when scrolling, because it only renders as much of the texture to a texture buffer as needed. This has advantages, and disadvantages. The advantage is the snappiness, and the neat transition effects when switching from portrait to landscape mode. The advantage is also that scrolling never ever stalls. The disadvantage, as said is that you have to wait a bit for the texture to re-render when you’ve scrolled quickly through a document.

  4. Bryan

     /  2007-07-02

    Thanks for the update on your experience with the iPhone Arve. I was hoping the mobile Safari browser would be as standard compliant as it’s big brother. I guess that’s not going to happen any time soon. Hooray, another browser to design around.

    And now, I’ll let you get back to reading Apple fanboy flames. You have my condolences.

  5. Bryan: Safari on the iPhone _is_ fairly standard-compliant: It renders web pages quite well, and the issues I mentioned should not prevent you from creating web pages that look like you expect.
    I would however lay off targeting the iPhone with really JS-heavy applications, but this is something you ought to be careful about anyway, when authoring for the mobile web.

  6. Bryan

     /  2007-07-03

    Arve: Thanks. And you’re right the items you mentioned won’t affect my site designs. I guess that was more of a vent of frustration over the lack of standards compliance through the years. Then again, I’d probably end up bored without browsers like IE to throw a wrinkle in my day. 🙂

    I usually do my best to stay away from unnecessary JS implementation as well. JS has it’s place. But it can also get in the way of the user experience if you’re not careful. Not to mention the headaches of trying to create some sort of graceful degradation for browsers that either have JS turned off or don’t have it at all.

  7. Well, I’m not going to say you’re bias, but I’m not going to say you’re not. This is – as we’re more or less all aware – a product that almost directly competes with your employers’ product. I can understand that you can’t be completely objective.
    But on the other hand, I’m under the assumption that you’ve been against this device long before it was launched. Am I right?
    It *is* a break through device on a number of levels, there’s just no denying that. I myself haven’t tried it yet (as I live in Norway), but what I’ve seen of the device so far is nothing less than pretty stunning.
    Ok, so it has flaws. What cellular device doesn’t? My Nokia E61 keeps rebooting all the time. It’s rather slow. Its keypad is too small etc.
    My old Sony Ericsson W900i kept freezing when I tried to edit a cell number in the dictionary.
    I’m betting your Nokia 6300 has flaws, too. They all do.
    I’m buying the iPhone when that league of hackers over at OSX86 manage to sort out how the input language is implemented. I don’t feel like using an U.S. keyboard in Norway, if you understand what I mean.
    Anyways, just a tip: When you talk about a product in the matter you do, no one will take you seriously. What’s up? I love most of your posts, but lately they’ve been a bit grim. 🙂
    My suggestion: Write a post about the iPhones **good** sides.
    bq. And now, I’ll let you get back to reading Apple fanboy flames. You have my condolences.
    Please, that’s getting *so* old.